CREW CHIEF: James Small
TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing
POINTS: Second in NASCAR Cup Series
WINS: Four (Phoenix I, Martinsville I, Darlington I, Richmond II)
LAPS LED: 865
TOP 5s: 13
TOP 10s: 20
QUALIFIED FIRST: Three times (Richmond I, Dover, Bristol II)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Three wins in the first third of the regular season signaled Martin Truex Jr. as a potential threat to win his second Cup Series championship.
All of those victories – Phoenix in March, Martinsville in April, and Darlington in May – came at tracks to be visited again during the Cup playoffs. Additionally, they all came with the 750-horsepower package that would be used in November for the title finale in Phoenix.
Truex entered the playoffs as the third seed (albeit tied on points with second seed Ryan Blaney). In the playoff opener at Darlington, a late-race speeding penalty on pit road ended his hopes for the win but he still finished fourth. One week later at Richmond, Truex scored his fourth win of the season to enter the Round of 12.
Truex would advance on points into the Round of 8, but in that round’s opener at Texas, an incident with Daniel Suarez knocked him out of the race with 15 laps to go. Now 22 points behind the cutline to advance to the Championship 4, Truex responded with a seventh-place finish at Kansas.
That pulled him within three points of the cutline ahead of the cut race at Martinsville, where he survived a tense finish to the race in order to reach the Championship 4:
- Lap 379: A caution saved Truex from having to pit for a reported loose wheel under green
- Lap 450: Truex sustained left-front damage to his car while racing Brad Keselowski for fourth place
- Lap 471: Truex hit backstretch wall following contact with Kurt Busch
- Lap 494: Truex passed Kurt Busch for seventh, moving him ahead of Kyle Busch on cutline for final Championship 4 berth
- Overtime: Kyle Busch, needing a win to advance to Championship 4, finished second to Alex Bowman; fourth-place finisher Truex claimed final Championship 4 berth by three points
After it was all over, Truex quipped: “I’m going to buy a lottery ticket on the way home.”
WHAT WENT WRONG: In his fifth career Championship 4 appearance, Truex looked to be in control late at Phoenix. While in the midst of a green-flag pit stop at Lap 248, a caution came out for an Anthony Alfredo crash. But due to the timing of the yellow, Truex not only got to stay on the lead lap but cycle into the lead.
When the race resumed, Truex’s great long-run speed enabled him to pull away. But it all went awry for him with 30 laps to go, when a debris caution set up the final pit stop of the race. Truex slipped from first to third in the pits and could only move back up to second in the final 24-lap run under green.
Beyond the finale, the most noticeable downturn for Truex came midway through the regular season. After his win at Darlington, Truex only picked up one top-10 finish in the next seven races. That span saw Truex suffer one of only two DNFs he had all year in the weather-marred event at Circuit of the Americas. However, he and the No. 19 team started to round back into shape as the regular season wound down.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2022: In their second season together, Truex and crew chief James Small maintained their consistent results but figured out how to end races in Victory Lane. As the Cup Series comes to grips with the new Next Gen car, that added confidence can only bode well for them and the No. 19 team.